Sunday, 24 June 2012

When did things become "normal"?

I've struggled for weeks trying to think of what to write about.  There have been no visits to anywhere of note, no special conferences, nor mishaps of comic value.  Things have become quite normal here. Which I've decided is actually very nice.

It's been nearly 8 months since I arrived in Kenya.  On one hand I can't begin to explain where 8 months has gone, and on the other it feels like I've been here for years.  When a new colleague at work asked how long I'd been there, another colleague standing nearby said she'd been there 3 years but couldn't remember me not being there. 

And I know that this happens with every big move and every new job.  In the first few days and weeks you think you will never settle in - you will never learn how things are done or get your head around the work - and then a few months later you catch yourself giving instruction to someone on how something is done and come to find that without realising it you have settled and become the expert - the one driving and shaping things.  

I've experienced it before - moving to London when I was 22, starting work at the Students' Union - but for some reason I thought that the African volunteer experience might be a bit different - that I would feel unsettled and a stranger for most of my time here.  Not that I wouldn't find routine - but that it would never feel "normal".

But after nearly 8 months it does indeed feel "normal".  Well, "normal-ish".

So the past few weeks as I have been struggling to think of what to write as things have become "normal", it never occurred to me to write about the normal things.  That is until I talk to my mom last night who scolded me for not blogging and told me to get on it!

Therefore, here are 5 "normal" things in my Kenyan life.

1. Commuting to work.  I leave the house between 6.45a-7a and walk about 5 minutes to get to a big highway.  Actually, it's the biggest highway in Kenya - it goes all the way from Mombasa (on the Indian Ocean) to Kampala (the capital of Uganda) and just happens to run right past my house.  After very carefully looking for traffic, I run across the road to the matatu stage (bus stop).  I wait there as many buses and matatus pull up and the conductors shout out the destination and the price of the journey (public transport fares aren't standard - it's up to the individual vehicle what they want to charge).  In morning peak travel times buses generally go to downtown Nairobi and have set prices no matter where you alight, so I usually take a matatu which has more flexible fares. I usually wait 10 minutes for a matatu and then  travel only 6 minutes and alight and walk the rest of the 2 1/2 mile journey to work (it's a lovely walk down tree lined streets that house lots of embassies).  I've even made a friend on the walk - Daniel - who is a house painter and keeps me entertained with stories about his crazy German boss.  The whole journey is 1 hour exactly door-to-door.

2. Managing Resource Mobilisation.  As the Resource Mobilisation (RM) Manager at I Choose Life (ICL) my VSO placement is focussed primarily on training a team of people (now 6) to be able to develop funding proposals. With 6 people on the team it means that at any given time we are working on a minimum of 6 proposals, and sometimes more if my boss or I are working on separate ones. The work is busy and involves me regularly spending evenings or weekends reviewing drafts, but I can say that I really enjoy it. I especially enjoy working with the RM Team and seeing them learn and develop in their ability to put together a strong funding proposal (although I have to admit that keeping track of where 6 different proposals can be a bit tricky - but so far no dire mistakes!). This is probably where things feel the most normal. When I arrived at ICL I knew very little about HIV&AIDS (our main emphasis) and even less about democratic reform (or secondary emphasis), and I had never fundraised in an international development context where everything is just different. I wondered if I would ever be able to get my head around the issues or really contribute. I don't know when or how it happened - but I got up to speed and starting actually managing and leading the work.  And now it's normal - meaning, like all regular people, I feel the weekends are too short and Monday mornings too early and Friday afternoons too slow.  But normal is actually quite nice.

3. Shopping.  I still go to Kangemi (the nearby "informal settlement" - slum) every weekend to buy my fruits and vegetables.  I usually go with Andrea, but sometimes on my own.  It is about a 10 minute walk down a dirt road, and along the way at least 20 children will yell "Mzungu!!" ("foreigner") and "How are yooouuuu!?", and some will come and shake our hands.  The market in Kangemi is immense - it's made of a network of sheds with dirt aisles that are only about 2 feet wide (and generally quite muddy).  You can buy all kinds of fruits and vegetables, clothes, house wares, used electronics, and shoes there.  It is the main shopping market for this area of Nairobi and can get very busy - but we usually go on a Saturday or Sunday morning before the crowds come. 

4. Washing. Every Saturday morning I still get up and wash my clothes by hand and hang them to dry.  I have it down to a science and have learned how to most efficiently and effectively get my clothes clean.  What I haven't yet learned is how to protect my poor finger nails in the process...

5. Going out. Sometimes I even have fun! Nairobi is quite expensive, so meeting up with other volunteers for a night out isn't often possible on a volunteer allowance - but it does happen every once in a while.  This past month several of us went to the Alliance Franciase (the French language centre) to see a film in the International Film Festival (a lovely film about a Dutch boy who gets lost in Kiberia), we went back to the Alliance a few weeks later to see a of 9 different musical acts from Turkana (which was brilliant), and with Euro 2012 on there has been a few visits to bars to watch football matches (and hopefully another couple if England win tonight as well!).   

I hope you have found this very "normal" blog post a little bit interesting.  While things in Kenya are not boring and adventure is surely always around the corner, I have actually enjoyed realising that I have come to a place where my daily life feels a little usual and regular. Things, however, are about to become a little less normal in my life as in less than 2 weeks my boyfriend arrives in Nairobi to start his very own VSO placement!  

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